Aboriginal Art

The following two documents provide advice about buying Australian Aboriginal Art. There are some websites attached where further information can be accessed. The documents have been reproduced as published.


The 4 artworks included below (just a few of an extensive collection) were purchased officially and ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ are  held by the owner, Dr. Max Darby






Tiwi Birds. Bathurst Island. Mangrove wood. Possession of Max. Darby






Purchasing Australian Aboriginal Art: A Consumer Guide

Published by the Northern Territory Government



Owning a piece of Australian Aboriginal art can provide a great deal of personal pleasure and satisfaction. The following information helps you make informed and ethical choices about buying Aboriginal art and artifacts.




Australian Aboriginal art is the longest continuing art tradition in the world. Aboriginal people have been making art in this country for an estimated period of at least 40,000 years.

Art is an important economic and cultural enterprise for Aboriginal artists. Aboriginal art is prized by collectors from all over the world and is considered to be fine art as well as a unique form of cultural expression.



Who are the artists?

Aboriginal artists come from a diverse range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and cultures. This diversity reflects geographical, cultural and historical differences among numerous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, many of whom continue to speak their ancestral languages.



Where do artists make the work?

Artists are located in urban, rural and remote Aboriginal communities. Many remote Aboriginal artists are associated with community-based art centres. Aboriginal art centres are generally associations owned and governed by the artists with managers from the wider community. Urban artists often work independently and may be represented by a gallery.



Why do artists make the work?

Art is important to Aboriginal people economically, politically and culturally.  It is a way to express a variety of messages about identity, belief and knowledge about people’s relationships to ancestry and links to country.

While new art styles and new media have been adopted, distinct regional art styles remain strong. This diversity has become more varied as Aboriginal people experience different circumstances and influences. Artists now frequently utilize Western materials and techniques such as acrylic paints, canvas, ceramics and printmaking, as well as traditional materials such as sheets of stringy bark, natural ochres and pigments, pandanus leaf, native grasses and timber. Aboriginal art is made for both the tourist and fine art markets and varies in price accordingly.



The role of art galleries and art centres

There are many commercial outlets for Aboriginal art, use your judgment to evaluate your purchase. The following information may help your decision:

Aboriginal artists are located in urban, rural and remote communities

Authentic Aboriginal art can be purchased directly from community art centres or art galleries and other established art outlets.  Art galleries may also act as agents for individual artists or purchase directly from artists.

Aboriginal art centres are generally associations owned and governed by the artists. They are non-profit organizations or companies which facilitate protection of artists’ intellectual and cultural property, provide employment, income earning and training opportunities for Aboriginal people. Art centres may provide materials, promotion, documentation, dispatch systems and business management for the artists.



Is it authentic Aboriginal art?


All Aboriginal art should include a certificate of authenticity to establish the origin of the work. Provenance may come in the form of an official art centre or gallery label or swing tag in the case of small artifacts or a certificate of authenticity in the case of fine art items. Documentation should include some or all of the following:

The name of the artist

Title of the work

When the work was made

Language group of the artist

Appropriate cultural information

Where the work was made

Community art centre

Artist’s statement.



Price of the work

The price of art work in a gallery includes a gallery commission. This covers promoting, marketing, display and related gallery overheads. The art centre/artist also receives a percentage of the sale price which covers the cost of the artists’ materials, packaging, freight and overheads for running the art centre and related support for artists and their communities. The greater the percentage of funds returned to the art centre goes directly to the artist.


The price for original works of art and craft reflects the values, creative input, time, effort, cost of materials and cultural significance of the work and are the artist’s livelihood.



Questions to consider when purchasing Aboriginal art

Is the gallery a member of a reputable art gallery association such as the Australian Commercial Galleries Association?

Does the art work have a certificate of authenticity to verify the origin of the work?

Was the work sourced from an art centre?



What about souvenirs?



Some retail outlets sell manufactured items as Aboriginal art or artifacts.

Check the authenticity of these items to ensure that they are attributed to and are licensed to an Aboriginal artist. This information should be included as part of the packaging.

Unlicensed imitations of Aboriginal art may offend Aboriginal people, harm their livelihood options, and can infringe copyright and moral rights. An ethical; consumer should avoid imitations.



Things to look out for

Is the work manufactured in Australia?

Is the artist clearly attributed as the maker of the art work?

Does the label include information about the artist and origin of the art work?




Purchasing an art work means an individual acquires possession of the physical item. However the purchaser does not acquire the right to reproduce the work in any way. Permission must be sought from the artist to reproduce the work (including putting it on a web site or making a drawing). A copyright fee may be required depending on the purpose of reproduction. Licence agreements with artists must be made to reproduce the work of an individual artist or community.



Aboriginal heritage

Aboriginal people have rights in relation to their cultural heritage, which may be legally enforceable.

Aboriginal heritage includes imagery depicting:

Cultural practices



Art styles and symbols.








Patrick McMillan Tjupurrula. Bush Orange Dreaming. 1990

Born Santa Teresa Mission. Central Australia.

Ochres on canvas. 56 X 70 cm.

Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association.

Possession of Max Darby




Further information

Copyright and Intellectual Property


Arts Law of Australia

T:  1800 221 457




Australian Copyright Council

W :


Australian Art Associations


ANKAAA – Association of Northern territory, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists

T: +61 8 8981 6134



Desart Australia

T:  +61 8 8953 4736



Consumer Affairs


Northern Territory Consumer and Business Affairs

Department of Justice

T:  +61 8 8999 1999




Office of Consumer and Employment and Business Affairs

South Australia

T:  131 882




Department of Consumer and Employment Protection

Western Australia

T:  1300 30 40 54



The above brochure is a joint initiative between Arts NT and ANKAAA and was copyrighted in 2005.







Janelle Eggley Napaltjarri. Budgerigar Dreaming.

Language Group Luritja. Country Mt. Liebig (Amunturrungu)

Acrylic on canvas. 48 X 70 cm.

Possession of Max Darby





Fair Trade Art?

World Vision, (Supporter Magazine, December 2009)


World Vision’s Birrung Gallery is working to protest the rights of Indigenous artists as part of its Australia Program.


Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is highly popular. It has been exhibited in cities like New York, London, Rome and Tokyo, to name a few, and the industry has an annual turnover of $500 million.

For Indigenous people in Australia, participating in the art market helps to keep language and culture strong and also provides opportunities for employment, skills development and financial independence.


However, Indigenous artists due to geographical or social factors can often be exploited. The majority of money generated from the industry ends up with investors, entrepreneurs and gallery owners – not with artists or communities.

World Vision’s Burrung Gallery was established with the commitment to support Indigenous artists. It now represents over 500 artists from around Australia and provides unique Indigenous artwork to collectors and art lovers around the world.

Birrung Gallery ensures that the same is paid to Indigenous artists that is deemed acceptable to non-Indigenous artists in the commercial world.

Birrung Gallery also works with communities, supporting artists’ professional development, advocating for artists’ rights and seeking to improve government policy and industry regulation.

To find out more about Birrung Gallery or to sign up to our newsletter visit






Angeline Pwerle Kngare. Utopia Country. Northern Territory.

Delmore Downs Through Clouds (right painting) Detail below.

Acrylic on canvas. 1.0 X 1.0 Metres.

Possession of Max Darby






Detail, Delmore Downs Through Clouds

Meticulously layered small colured dots of paint.















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